The Conversation

Debating the Death Penalty

In June, Jeffrey E. Stern provided harrowing details of a botched execution (“The Execution of Clayton Lockett”). As prison officials scramble to find drugs for lethal injections, convicts appear to be physically suffering when they are put to death by the state.

Jeffrey E. Stern’s article demonstrates how well-meaning public servants are corrupted as they are pulled deeper into the nightmare of trying to give us something we cannot have: an easy, neat, and painless way of killing another human being.
The death penalty has become increasingly rare and disfavored because it does not enhance public safety. In 2014 there were only 72 new death sentences nationwide; 80 percent of the 35 executions that took place in 2014 took place in just three states (Texas, Missouri, and Florida). The Pew Research Center has found that public support for the death penalty for convicted murderers is at a 40-year low of 56 percent. Opposition has increased to 38 percent.
We all benefit from a criminal-justice system that is sensible and effective—a system that creates a safer society with less crime. Yet this is not what our current system is doing. The murder rate is lowest in the Northeast—the region with the lowest number of executions. In contrast, the South carries out the most executions of any region, and has the highest murder rate in the United States. We know that crime happens when other issues are neglected—insufficient mental-health services, a lack of safe and affordable housing, an outdated education system that does not prepare our future workforce.
When we do things like provide high-quality education for all children, ensure safe and affordable housing, give workers a living wage, and meet everyone’s mental-health needs, we prevent crime and create vibrant communities.
This article demonstrates that the death penalty can no longer be a feature of our legal system. It’s time for an immediate halt to all executions.
Douglass Reeves
New York, N.Y.

Mr. Lockett shot a girl and buried her alive, leaving her to die a horrible death. Do-gooders are bemoaning the fact that he took a few extra gasps of air while being executed. Pain during a chemical injection is trivial compared with what this vicious murderer did to his victim and what many killers do to their victims.
Myron Kayton
Santa Monica, Calif.

I sincerely hope that anyone picking up this article, no matter how hell-bent on this type of eye-for-an-eye punishment, is made aware of how truly inhumane the death penalty is. Lethal injection is by no means easy or peaceful. There are no better words than cruel and unusual to describe it.
Bonnie Ellman
Great Neck, N.Y.

Stern would have better served the public interest if he had commented on (or even supported) the use of nitrogen gas as a means of execution. As a method, it is noninvasive, painless, reliable, and in-expensive, and it involves no hard-to-get chemicals.
If a person is put in a situation that involves wearing a nitrogen mask, or being in a gas chamber where only nitrogen is available to breathe, that person will simply pass out and then expire due to lack of oxygen. No poison. No pain. No suffering. It is obscene that so much time and money are being spent on legal proceedings when such a simple, reliable, humane solution exists.
Clark Kurtz
Canandaigua, N.Y.

The solution to problems with government execution by injection is quite simple. The use of heroin to kill convicted prisoners is neither cruel nor unusual, and the drug is readily available in all states. A secondary benefit of using heroin for executions is that the drug’s deadly nature will become apparent to everyone. Heroin kills—on Skid Row and on fraternity row, and it will work just fine on death row.
G. E. Nordell
Rio Communities, N.M.

#Tweet of The Month

@TheAtlantic article on botched #ClaytonLockett execution is an indictment on our botched #deathpenalty system
— @helenprejean
Sister Helen Prejean, anti-death-penalty advocate and author, Dead Man Walking

Clinton’s Candidacy

In June’s “Playing the Granny Card,” Liza Mundy asked, “Is a generation of powerful women”—including the presidential candidate Hillary Clinton—“turning age to its advantage?” In politics “much more so than in some other arenas,” Mundy noted, “age can be an asset.”

Liza Mundy’s article was interesting and amusing, but I think Hillary Clinton can’t be elected president, despite the examples of Angela Merkel, Elizabeth Warren, and those postmenopausal killer whales. It’s because she’s an “old” Democrat.
Looking at presidential elections back to Franklin Roosevelt’s first, there’s a clear pattern: virtually all successful Democratic candidates have been young. Jimmy Carter, the oldest nonincumbent Democrat at the time of election, was 52—younger than the youngest Republican, George W. Bush, 54. Three Democrats were elected in their 40s, and FDR was only 50.
Henry Stimpson
Wayland, Mass.

If elected president, Hillary Clinton will be 69 when she is inaugurated. The only woman discussed in the article who holds a position even remotely like U.S. president is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She was 51 when she was elected, and is just 61 today. The other exemplars—Janet Yellen, Elizabeth Warren, Christine Lagarde—have jobs that do not require extraordinary energy or quick response to emergencies. They control their own agendas and pace of response in almost every aspect of what they do professionally. The presidency requires enormous energy, long hours, and the ability to react quickly in emergent situations. For most people, those characteristics deteriorate noticeably in their 70s. While Clinton may prove to be an exception, that is a risk inherent in her candidacy (and Senator Bernie Sanders’s), despite Ms. Mundy’s attempt at literary alchemy.
Ralph M. Lowenbach
South Orange, N.J.

A New Prescription

Gabrielle Glaser’s April article, “The False Gospel of Alcoholics Anonymous,” prompted thousands of letters to the editor and comments on TheAtlantic .com, many of them about personal struggles with alcohol. The June Conversation featured several of these letters, but readers have continued to weigh in. One took the article especially to heart.

I wanted to thank you for giving me information that may turn out to save my life, or at least make it better. I have been a heavy drinker for my entire adult life, since that first light beer at high-school graduation. While lucky enough to avoid most of the checklist disasters (DUI, anger management, lost family and friends) that lead most people to say “I am an alcoholic” and start attending meetings, I have always known that it is the truth.
I have also always known that a 12-step program was never going to be the solution for me. I went to a few meetings and just knew I could not do that for the rest of my life. But two days after reading your article, I had my annual physical. My doctor is aware of my intake and has been monitoring my liver function for a few years. When he asked about my drinking, I told him what I’d read, expecting that he would cringe at being “educated” by a patient.
To my surprise, he was encouraging, and we developed a plan, with goals and a prescription for Naltrexone. I took the first 25-milligram pill a few days later, in the morning. When I got to my workshop, I grabbed what would normally be the first beer of the day and guzzled it at once to see what would happen. Mostly just a large burp, so I opened another. (I should mention that this is par for the course.) The second beer just sat there. I felt like I was watching a part of me walk out the door.
I didn’t have a drink for three days straight after that single pill. My doctor told me to take one a day, but I currently take one about every two days. I have also deliberately not taken a pill, in order to have a “party day,” but that makes me a lot better than I was and a lot more like a guy who abstains all week and then enjoys a Saturday.
It’s way too soon to tell the long-term effects for me, but I can certainly see the author’s point that if this modern method were combined with the support and discipline of group programs like AA, then the future could be a lot better for addicts.
So thank you. From the bottom of my liver.
Santa Barbara, Calif.


“The Art of Avoiding War” (Robert D. Kaplan, June) said that the Persian army pursued the Scythians “early in the sixth century B.C.” This happened around 512 B.C., which was late in the sixth century.

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